Keith Welsh Award 2006 – May 2006
The Honourable Justice Pierre Slicer
Thank you, Phillipa from the Mercury.
Never provide a witty quote without due thought. In 1993, the AMP Society paid out on a life insurance policy to Keith Welsh which he had commenced in 1923 since the Society regarded him as actuarially dead. When asked how he would spend the $8,900, he said “I will pay for my funeral”. He joked, “but seriously, I might put it aside to cover the expenses for my 100th birthday”. Thank you Keith. The bar tab is awaiting you downstairs.
No one here will see an occasion like this again. A long serving journalist and good man who fought for his colleagues and against the enemies of his country, and in whose name an award, based on integrity and long service to his profession, is based. He touches us physically with his presence at the age of 100.
It would serve us well if, in this age of hurry, confusion and the one year fix, we used his journey through life as a means of understanding what we do and why.
Keith was born on Christmas day 1905. In any era, someone has lived for the span of 100 years. Keith is but 20 humans removed from the time of Christ. He is but five years younger than our nation state. He has the hand of someone who has touched the hand of a tribal person who had lived in the state and in the same culture for same 30,000 years. His span of life ought tell us something about the length of time of a human experience.
If we look at his life through the prism of your profession, journalism, we can see narratives, hopes, contradictions, stupidities and stories which resonate today. Some significant dates in his journey through life might illustrate the continuum of the human experience and the constancy of our stories. I have chosen issues which appeared in the journals of the day and which attracted more than fleeting attention.
1905 – 1906
Keith Welsh was born. In that Richard Butler became the Premier of South Australia. There was a Ross report on racism In Western Australia, protests over the new migration test, the San Francisco earthquake, a split in Federal Cabinet over free trade and protectionism, a cyclone hit Cairns and we celebrated a growth in grain exports, especially a new market obtained in the Middle East.
In deference to Keith’s love of Australian Rules football, I will add at each stage, the club which won the VFL grand final. In that year, it was Carlton.
He entered into journalism. The media reported an explosion at the Cessnock Colliery in which 21 miners were killed. Billy Hughes resigned as Prime Minister after a secret meeting, but was photographed entering Government House through the backdoor. The States and Commonwealth reached agreement on the twin issues of taxes and arbitration powers.
Keith married. He and his wife began their relationship at the height of the depression, an event which touched the lives and fortunes of every Australian. He witnessed the “bodyline” campaign and saw the first and only Tasmanian, Joseph Lyons, become Prime Minister. The first woman was elected to the Victorian Parliament and on entry into the Chamber, was told that she was not permitted to wear her hat, a cultural tradition insisted on by men over time. I trust they enjoyed the paradox. In that year, women comprised 21.5% of the Australian workforce. In a quote which resonates today, Germany was prepared to destroy its armaments, Hitler tells Roosevelt. International action was taken within the League of Nations to limit wheat production. A proposal was made for the amalgamation of Australian Rules and Rugby League into an all Australian game.
In the second World War Keith served in the Royal Australian Airforce. Journalists today, in writing of catastrophe, conflict and death, ought remember that some 65 million people were killed during that conflict.
Keith had worked for General Motors Holden in the preparation of their campaign to market Australia’s first car, the Holden. He played a significant role in the work of General Motors which saw, in 1947, a resulting massive advertising campaign for a beloved machine. He entered journalism at the same time as the ABC set up its first independent news service. Australians had obtained the 40 hour week. There were protests by Australia on Japanese whaling in Antarctica. A Minister of State declared that all coloured people who had found refuge in Australia during WWII must leave the country.
Keith retired as a working journalist but maintained his commitment to, and work for, his colleagues through your collective organisation. In that year Australia fixed its crude oil price for a period of five years. Now it is but for five minutes. Sir Henry Bolte stated that Hawk and Whitlam were the two causes of the permissive society. Thirty-six construction workers were killed and 19 injured in the collapse of the Westgate bridge. Nine soldiers were killed and 26 wounded by landmines in Vietnam. It is a sign of the times that in that year a bank teller who had gone missing with some $17,000, warranted a three State alert for his pursuit and arrest.
Incidentally in the year of his payout, 1993, the news photographs concentrated on Arafat and Rabin shaking hands on the successful conclusion of a PLO/Israel peace deal.
And the rest you know.
For your discipline and mine, there is a common thread to the human experience which is the experience of us all as individuals, families, tribes and countries. What remains common are questions of:
· At what level do you tell the story?
· Is it an accurate narrative?
· How do I find it, where do I look, who does not want to find it, and who wants to advance a contrary interpretation?
· How do I remove self from the tale or, at least, not let the “me” control its telling?
· Can I be passionate, do I fear the consequence, when do I tow the line, am I good enough to write or speak or construct the story, and, often forgotten, do I have confidence in my own judgment?
In a day of controlled management, they ought remain personal and intense questions and anchors for ethics. Simple statements with complex answers.
Yet the stories are simply ones of the human experience.
· Compassion – disputation.
· Fears – attempts to improve.
· Adversity – response.
· The individual or the collective.
· Power – money – betrayal.
My discipline deals with those products of the human condition, both civil and criminal law. So does your own. So when it all seems God awful, retreat into the basics, understand history, its cycles and patterns. That is what the Keith Welsh Award is about. Integrity and courage, yes, but, above all, a course of conduct within a wider perspective, and, in Keith’s case, longevity.
How will that translate into a modern citation for the Award? Let me quote the citation for 2006:
“Sue was nominated for the Keith Welsh award by the judges of the Print Journalism category who were impressed with her work on a two-part series on the Tumut community in NSW as a way of examining the community impact of building a pulp mill in Tasmania, outside the often confusing claims and counterclaims that typifies this debate.
The Keith Welsh judges agree her work is of high quality and public import. Her style of writing is succinct and crisp with strong use of directly-sourced material and is easy to read. Sue has stamped her own style on the role of Chief Reporter, combining her investigative skills with comprehensive analysis to provide her readers with a deeper insight into the major issues of the day. In doing so Sue has brought greater maturity to the role as well as provided encouragement for her colleagues and younger journalists to develop their own stories.”
Justice Pierre Slicer